_by Steve McCardell
My Dear ——,
It is the first day of Autumn, and it is raining here in Pennsylvania. And yet at once, this is not a dismal thing, but a word to the change that faces every human life, both in single days and in entire spans of existence. Beside this all, a latté sits beside me with a design in its foam that looks to me as a baby yet attached by cord to its mother. The change of season brings about life, and I would tell of a particular life about which I read in a recent article.
Jambon was this child’s name, which I believe means “ham” in French, and I can only wonder about his parents. At any rate, he was apparently born in the early 1800’s here in America to a German heritage (and we wonder again about his name …), stuffed with Bratwurst from an early age.
As adulthood wrapped its cloak about him, he came to despise his parents, and from that time on he was known as Bradford — a more respectable name by anyone’s account; but here, I am stuck on his name, and this has nothing to do with the story.
Bradford was a magician (and why he didn’t choose a better stage-title, I still wish to know). And not only a sleight-of-hand man, but one who performed tricks that other men of the trade could only guess at. No one could mimic his apparently unprepared acts of disappearing, of teleporting, of reading other minds. The man was an enigma.
After ten years of startling audiences, however, he decided just to stop. In a crowded market one day, a group worked to persuade him to teleport as he often did — they always wished to catch his trick. But without a word to explain, he refused the request, and with an air of politeness, he walked away.
The people called to him and harassed him a little, but he only turned and looked on them with some sad expression, as if he wished to say something he knew he could not say. So he turned once more, and by simple walking, disappeared from their lives. In time he faded from memory as well, left only in the pages of some forgotten articles and papers.
He would likely have faced extinction from this world altogether but for another man: considered retarded by most people all his life, a man named James recently returned from a long absence from his community. A change in him was noticed at once, and as he began to reveal some profound understanding of the world, people began to listen. Many had too long thought him a fool to listen to his words, but those who did began to spread his name. Soon, he too began these strange disappearing acts and other acts of magic. So perplexed were those who saw him that they wondered what label they should affix.
In time, a woman discovered through research about Jambon, and she quickly sought connection. She asked James if he knew Jambon, and though his answer was not straight-forward, they determined he had never heard of the old magician, for he did not know how a name could be attached to this magic.
More and more people began to seek out James to ask him of Jambon, or to hear his strange ideas of the world. Everyone pressed him to do magic, and sometimes he complied.
One day a struggling youth approached him, frustrated by his own failures in music. “How can I learn to compose music? Can you use your magic to compose like Mozart?”
“It takes no magic,” said James. “I am Mozart.” The people roared against him, and when the magician was asked to perform at the piano, his notes were harshly dissonant. The youth walked away, disillusioned.
But the crowd pressed in more closely on James and asked whether he could paint. “I am the greatest painter in all the world,” said James. But when paints were brought, it was seen he could not produce a thing worth the paints he used.
“You’re a fraud!” cried one as the crowd pressed in even closer. “What about mathematics? Can you produce a simple answer?” And when they challenged him, he got their puzzle wrong.
“What good are you?” the people called. “You pretend to teach us, but you’re as dumb as your townsmen said you were!”
“You’re right,” said James. “I am.” And when they tried to press in right against him, they found that he was gone.
* * * * *
That is where the article ends, for all intents and purposes. It goes on to state that no one has seen James since then, and that those who observed these last moments have returned to their quiet lives. Nothing much to say past this, but that it takes me back to a rainy first day of Autumn, and change. Magic is all about changing some portion of ourselves or the world around us, and that is all James did. This happens in the seasons, and in sunsets, and in our every moment; and I wonder: what would happen if we looked for magic in a mirror?
With all my love,